Choosing Hope: Ray Flynn’s Dedication to Ending Homelessness

Photo Above: Title: Homeless Advocate Mitch Snyder, Actor Martin Sheen, Mayor Raymond L. Flynn. Creator: Mayor's Office - City Photographer. Date: 1987 January. Source: Mayor Raymond L. Flynn records, Collection #0246.001. File name: RF_005. Rights: Copyright City of Boston. Citation: Mayor Raymond L. Flynn records, Collection #0246.001, City of Boston Archives, Boston. Link.

In another part of my life, long ago, I was a theology student. I focused on systematic theology, and I found myself in a class on eschatology, the study of the “end times.” The class was taught by an Augustinian Friar. He started somewhere around the ancient Sumerians, went through the history of Western philosophy and medieval theology, and ended with twentieth century political theories. Truth be told, I barely understood a word he said. However, I will never forget how he ended the class. He said, “In the end, regardless of their religious faith or beliefs, human beings are confronted with only one of two choices: hope or despair.”

As a result of that one thought, I would like to think that each morning I choose to get out of bed on the side of hope. But I also realize that I have been very fortunate to know many fine “people of hope.” These are people not motivated solely by power, wealth or status; but who seem focused on pursuing what is “good” regardless of the cost. These are people who do not identify themselves by their causes, but rather bring the fullness of themselves to their causes. They do not embrace the often popular masking of despair that is articulated by expressing all that is wrong in our world while promoting unachievable utopian visions. These people of hope believe that things can be better, but recognize the limitedness of our human condition and are willing to be persistent in shaping incremental change.

At MHSA, we have hope that we can end homelessness in our contemporary world. We do not believe we can end poverty completely or create a society wholly based on economic justice. We do believe we can respond better to these conditions and do more than simply “manage” the homelessness issue while those with serious mental illness live on our streets, while someone with a substance use disorder cannot find treatment, or while the working poor cannot find even temporary assistance to resolve an emergency housing situation.

These thoughts on hope were provoked by Ambassador Ray Flynn’s column in the Boston Herald entitled ”Swearing-in an example of hope, pride in politics.” When I think of addressing homelessness as it applies to “hope,” I can think of no better example than Ray Flynn. As Mayor of Boston, Ray Flynn was one of the first mayors nationwide to highlight the serious issue of homelessness. His own approach to homelessness was rational and pragmatic, and he highlighted the unique convergence of social and economic conditions that created the reality of people living on our streets. He became an advocate for the investment of federal resources to respond to homelessness.

When Mayor Flynn first began to address this issue, there was no real political gain for doing so. I sincerely believe he did it because it was simply the right thing to do. He was driven by a hope that understood a critical good was at risk. He believed in the “common good” and that elected officials should be concerned with those who had less and were in need. His hope became Boston’s legacy as Boston continues to address the issue of homelessness and recognize that the problem is not intractable, but solvable.

We certainly have enough examples of despair in our political culture today. Thank God for that enduring hope that creates a human being like Ray Flynn.


Joe Finn
MHSA President & Executive Director